Disney’s Love Letter to Itself
Science & Tech Editor
After going to see the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, my sister kept singing the lyrics to the famous songs for days. She is seven. I am eighteen. While I have to recognize the movie’s visual virtuosity, I am past singing the whole soundtrack and cannot help but see the cracks in the painting.
The wave of remakes started a few years ago with Alice in Wonderland (2010), Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016). As for their animated movies, Disney’s well-oiled machine is in full swing with Moana, Zootopia, and Inside Out, to name a few.
Despite the success of its original content, Disney seems to be fixated on repeating past hits like an old scratched vinyl. It is nostalgic about its youth, and entangles us in its web to make us nostalgic about ours, too. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
However, Disney’s nostalgia doesn’t come from the heart as much as from the pocket. These remakes of old favourites even make adults want to go see the movie in theatres. They are no longer only accompanying a young child, they, themselves, want to see the movie, thus diversifying and expanding the audience. While animated movies bear the common misconception of being only for children, live-action movies avoid this hurdle completely, being relatable for both the young and the old.
In addition, Beauty and the Beast created a lot of noise even before its release with the so-called drastic progress the new adaptation features: a gay character, an ethnically diverse cast, no corsets in sight and a feminist main character. However, most of it is only an echo in an empty room. The decision to make the character Le Fou gay only served to shine a light on the deeply homophobic reality of our present with the backlash it created. The people of colour in the movie appear most of the time as household objects, and, even then, they are supporting characters. These two elements have been used to depict a false image of social advancement. Their importance in the movie is so small overall that they don’t exactly break the glass ceiling in terms of integration and exposure.
Emma Watson’s refusal to wear a corset, along with her character inventing an early version of a washing machine is a small step in the right direction, but it is an overblown one, and the real issues women face are not addressed. Patriarchal values about manhood and marriage prevail. Even the feeble attempt at giving some characters more backstory feels recycled and trite. I found the French 2014 version with Vincent Cassel as the Beast to contain a much more touching backstory regarding the Beast’s past.
Beauty and the Beast manages the feat of being even more lavish than Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby. It contains crumbs of innovation but doesn’t fully deliver. The plot remains one about Stockholm syndrome and bestiality, but these inherent themes manage to make themselves discrete, hidden by all the extravagance of a tale as old as time.